This may be an odd spin on Christmas, but I want to share a letter with you that was written December 19, 1944 by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. World War II was raging at the time and people everywhere were in turmoil, but Dietrich’s letter is one of courage and hope. His story and his words will inspire you to face anything this season—or this new year—with faith.
Plus, I was so inspired by his letter that I actually put the words to music, and I’ll sing it over you in today’s episode of the 4:13 Podcast.
Now, if you don’t know who Dietrich Bonhoeffer is, let me give you a little history:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran theologian born in 1906. His father was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Berlin. Always an outstanding student, Dietrich himself eventually became a lecturer in systematic theology at the same university where his father taught.
In 1933, Hitler rose to power and his evil was invading the land. Consequently, Bonhoeffer became a foremost spokesperson for the Confessing Church, which was the seat of Protestant opposition against the Nazi regime. He was used by God to organize and lead—for a time—the underground seminary of the Confessing Church.
His books and sermons were used in a big way to equip and empower his students, parishioners, and even generations of Christians. For example, his book, Life Together, depicts the unique fellowship experienced by the community of believers in that seminary, and his book, The Cost of Discipleship, criticizes what he titled “cheap grace.”
Most likely, Bonhoeffer grew up under the teaching that Christians “should not resist the powers that be,” but as he matured in his beliefs, he grew to embrace the reality that Christians must stand against evil and resist it fervently.
By 1939, Dietrich became involved with a covert group planning to overthrow Hitler. In April 1944, the group made a failed attempt on Hitler’s life, and Bonhoeffer was sent to prison as a result.
On December 19, 1944, from his prison cell, Bonhoeffer wrote Christmas greetings to his fiancé and his family. Four months later, he was executed by the Nazis in the closing days of the war.
What an incredible story, right?
It’s so tragic, but it’s also so inspiring because he never gave up and he never gave in. His faith in God sustained him through unimaginable circumstances, and it shows in the letter he wrote from prison.
I can just imagine this man of faith praying, pondering, and then penning in his letter some of the most poignant words I’ve ever read. These striking, deep, and powerful words have since been set to over 50 melodies and printed in church hymnals worldwide.
And they inspired me so much that I wanted to do the same!
So, if you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear my version and arrangement of his letter in a song called “By Gracious Powers,” which includes these powerful words from Deitrich:
By gracious powers, so wonderfully sheltered.
And confidently waiting come what may.
We know that God is with us, night and morning;
And never fails to greet us each new day.
Yet is this heart, by its old foe tormented?
Still evil days, bring burdens hard to bear.
Oh, give our frightened souls, the sure salvation
For which, O Lord, You taught us to prepare.
And when this cup You give, is filled to brimming
With bitter suffering, hard to understand.
We take it thankfully, and without trembling,
Out of so good, and so beloved a hand.
Yet when again, in this same world You give us
The joy we had, the brightness of Your sun,
We shall remember, all the days we lived through,
And our whole life shall then be Yours alone.
Because we’re approaching December 19—the day these words were penned so many years ago—I leave them with you today.
Although it has been over 70 years since he poured his heart onto paper and faced a life trial most of us will never have to face, I hope these words inspire you in your walk with the Lord.
Dietrich’s words really captured his heart of faith, and I pray our heart’s response would be similar to his as we face any difficulty in this life.
May God be your strength during this season and every day.
[Listen to the podcast using the player above, or read the transcript below. Then check out the links below for more helpful resources.]
Books & Music by Jennifer Rothschild
- Remember (music CD including “By Gracious Powers”)
- God is Just Not Fair: Finding Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense
Links Mentioned in This Episode
- Lululemon Yoga Pants
- Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written by Eric Metaxas
Related Blog Posts
- Can My Faith Be Impacted By Elisabeth Elliot? With Ellen Vaughn [Episode 141]
- Can I Make the Low Places of My Life the High Places of My Faith? [Episode 74]
- Can I Have Doubt and Faith at the Same Time? With Mary Jo Sharp [Episode 112]
- Can I Overcome Fear With Faith? [Episode 1]
- Can I Become More Courageous? [Episode 92]
- Don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to the 4:13 Podcast here.
- Were you encouraged by this podcast? Reviews help the 4:13 Podcast reach more women with the “I can” message. Click here to leave a review on iTunes.
4:13 Podcast: Can I Face Anything With Faith? [Episode 172]
Jennifer Rothschild: Well, hey, 4:13ers. This might be a very odd spin on Christmas, but today I want to share with you a letter that was written on December 19, 1944. It was written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and it will inspire you to face anything this season, or this new year, with faith. Plus, I actually put the words of this inspiring letter to music and I'll sing it over you at the end of this podcast. So, K.C., cue the intro.
K.C. Wright: Welcome, welcome to the 4:13 Podcast, where practical encouragement and Biblical wisdom set you up to live the "I Can" life, because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Now, your host. She's a woman who believes you can never own too many pairs of yoga pants.
Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, yeah.
K.C. Wright: It's a true story.
Jennifer Rothschild: It is so true.
K.C. Wright: She has one in every color. She has a black belt in shopping. Also a red belt, a yellow belt, a polka dot belt. Would you please make welcome Jennifer Rothschild.
Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, my gosh, it's true. Welcome, our people. And how about this? We're almost near Christmas. We're so glad we're together. I'm Jennifer, here to help you be and do more than you feel capable of as you live this "I Can" life of Philippians 4:13. And I do say this truly, K.C., I have reduced my volume --
K.C. Wright: What?
Jennifer Rothschild: -- of yoga pants? And I'll tell you why. It's because I found some that don't need replacing nearly as often.
K.C. Wright: Oh, that's a big deal.
Jennifer Rothschild: It is a big deal. So if my husband is listening, he can get me some Lululemon for Christmas and I will not cry about it one bit. They're expensive, but they're lifetime guaranteed. So, like, I may have bought six pairs last year. Well, I can buy one Lulu, and it never wears out, and I'm good to go until I'm 90.
K.C. Wright: Lulu's a brand, I'm taking it?
Jennifer Rothschild: Lulu is a brand.
K.C. Wright: Okay. All right.
Jennifer Rothschild: Lulu is a brand, and it's a great brand and I love it.
K.C. Wright: Okay.
Jennifer Rothschild: But I know that a lot of you are busy. Maybe you're in the car right now doing some Christmas shopping, or maybe you're decorating, or whatever it is you're doing, we want to use your time well today. And our goal is that this will just be a blessing to you, and an inspiration. And I just wanted to share this letter with you today because when I read it from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it just totally inspired me. And by the way, he actually wrote it on December 19, K.C., which is my birthday, obviously.
K.C. Wright: Oh, wow.
Jennifer Rothschild: I know.
K.C. Wright: Which in my world, because I love you so much -- you're my sister from another mister -- should be a national holiday. I'm just kidding. I'm serious.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, I don't think any of my female friends out there should be doing any cooking or cleaning in honor of my birthday.
K.C. Wright: That's right.
Jennifer Rothschild: That's what I'm not doing.
K.C. Wright: By the way, happy birthday.
Jennifer Rothschild: Thank you. Thank you.
K.C. Wright: Yes. I give God praise for your life.
Jennifer Rothschild: Thank you.
K.C. Wright: So some of us might not know who Dietrich Bonhoeffer is. I mean, we've all heard his name, but not everybody knows his story. So give us the scoop on all things Dietrich.
Jennifer Rothschild: Okay. Absolutely. But here's the thing. Let me tell you this also. Eric Metaxas has written a great book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And so we will have a link to that book, because once you hear about him more, you might want to go deeper. And so we'll have a link to that book at the show notes at 413podcast.com/172. Okay? That way you can learn more. But let me tell you just a little bit about who he is. Okay? First of all, he was a German Lutheran theologian, and he was born actually in 1906. And so his father was a professor, a psychiatry professor, at the University of Berlin, and Dietrich himself then eventually became a lecturer in systematic theology at the same university. Okay? Now, let's pause for a minute and let me refresh your history brain. Okay? 1933, you may remember, Hitler rose to power. And, gosh, you guys remember how his evil was just rampant and it just seemed unstoppable. So there was this movement of Christians that arose in Germany, and Bonhoeffer became a really well-known spokesperson for it. It was called the Confessing Church. You've probably heard of the Confessing Church. And that was like the seat of Protestant opposition against the Nazi regime. So Dietrich, he actually organized and he led, you know, at least for a while, the underground seminary of the Confessing Church. And so during that time, he was writing books, and his books and his sermons were used big time to equip and empower his students, all the church members. And even now, you know, generations later, you and me, you may have heard of his books like "Life Together" -- it's about the body life, living by this community of believers in that seminary. Super inspiring -- and his book, "The Cost of Discipleship." That's such a classic. You've probably heard of it also, because it criticizes what he calls cheap grace. So most likely, Bonhoeffer grew up under the teaching that Christians should not really resist the powers that be, you know, they should just kind of stay in their own Lane. But as he matured in his own faith and in his beliefs, he grew to embrace the reality that Christians must stand up against evil and they must resist it. And I'm writing now a Bible study on the book of Amos and I see that so clearly. I mean, Amos 5 tells us that we are to seek good; we are to hate evil. So I see this in Bonhoeffer's life. Anyway, by 1939 Dietrich became involved in this secret group, and this group was planning to overthrow Hitler. But in April 1944, the group made an attempt on Hitler's life -- they tried to kill him and it failed -- so Bonhoeffer was sent to prison, and so were many of his co-conspirators. Now let's fast forward to December 19, 1944, because that's when this letter was written. He's in jail, he's in prison, and he's writing Christmas greetings from prison to his fiancée and to his family. He's writing it right there in prison. Okay? And he was facing what he knew was likely death. I mean -- and that is what happened. Just four months later, he was executed by the Nazis. And it was just the closing days of the war. But here's the thing, y'all. He never wavered. He never gave up. He never gave in. He was a man of incredible commitment and faith. And so I imagine him on that dirty floor in the prison cell praying. I imagine him pondering his future. I can see him taking pen to paper and writing this letter. And to me, they're some of the most poignant words I have ever read. And so the striking, the deep, the powerful words of this letter, they have actually been set since to over 50 different melodies, and they've been printed in hymnals worldwide. Okay? That's how powerful they are. So I did my feeble attempt of the same, and that's how we're going to end the podcast. I'm going to sing over you my version and my arrangement of his lyrics, his letter that I put to music. So though it's been over 70 years since he poured his heart onto paper and faced a life trial that none of us will likely ever have to face, his words, they still really capture all of our hearts because they communicate our deepest desires when we face the really hard things in life. So I want you to hear them. And before I sing them, you know -- I am going to sing them. But I want K.C. to read them first, because I just think you need to hear each word read.
K.C. Wright: "By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered, and confidently waiting come what may, we know that God is with us night and morning, and never fails to greet us each new day. Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented, still evil days bring burdens hard to bear; oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare. And when this cup you give is filled to brimming with bitter suffering, hard to understand, we take it thankfully and without trembling out of so good and so beloved a hand. Yet when again in the same world you give us the joy we had, the brightness of your sun, we shall remember all the days we lived through and our whole life shall then be yours alone."
Jennifer Rothschild: Amen. Well, because we're approaching December 19th, our friends, the day these words were penned so many years ago, I leave them with you. It is K.C.'s and my prayer that you will experience God's strength during this season and every day. (Jennifer singing) By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered, and confidently waiting come what may, we know that God is with us night and morning, and never fails to greet us each new day. Yet this heart by its old foe tormented, still evil days bring burdens hard to bear; Oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation, for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare. Hallelujah, Amen. Hallelujah, Amen. Amen. Amen. And when this cup you give is filled to brimming with bitter suffering, hard to understand, we'll take it thankfully and without trembling from so good and so beloved a hand. Yet again in the same world you give us the joy we had, the brightness of your sun, we shall remember all of the days we lived through, then our whole life will be yours alone. Hallelujah, Amen. Hallelujah, Amen. Amen. Amen. Hallelujah, Amen. Hallelujah, Amen. Amen. Amen.
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